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The Wedge Guy: The best golf club innovations?

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Being in the golf equipment industry for nearly 40 years, I have paid close attention to the evolution of golf equipment over its modern history. While I’ve never gotten into the collecting side of golf equipment, I have accumulated a few dozen clubs that represent some of the evolution and revolution in various categories. As a club designer myself, I ponder developments and changes to the way clubs are designed to try to understand what the goals a designer might have had and how well he achieved those goals.

Thinking about this innovation or that got me pondering my own list of the most impactful innovations in equipment over my lifetime (the past 60 years or so). I want to offer this analysis up to all of you for review, critique, and argument.

Woods: I would have to say that the two that made the most impact on the way the game is played is the introduction of the modern metal wood by TaylorMade back in the 1980s, and the advent of the oversized wood with the Callaway Big Bertha in the 1990s. Since then, the category has been more about evolution than revolution, to me at least.

Irons: Here again, I think there are two major innovations that have improved the playability of irons for recreational golfers. The first is the introduction of the numbered and matched set, a concept pioneered by Bobby Jones and Spalding in the 1930s. This introduced the concept of buying a “set” of irons, rather than picking them up individually. The second would be the introduction of perimeter weighting, which made the lower lofted irons so much easier for less skilled golfers to get airborne. (But I do believe the steadfast adherence to the concept of a “matched” set has had a negative effect on all golfers’ proficiency with the higher-lofted irons)

Putters: This is probably the most design-intense and diverse category in the entire equipment industry. History has showed us thousands of designs and looks in the endless pursuit of that magic wand. But to me, the most impactful innovation has to be the Ping Anser putter, which has been…and still is…copied by nearly every company that even thought about being in the putter business. Moving the shaft toward the center of the head, at the same time green speeds were increasing and technique was moving toward a more arms-and-shoulders method, changed the face of putting forever. I actually cannot think of another innovation of that scale in any category.

Wedges: Very simply, I’ll “take the fifth” here. To me, this is a category still waiting for the revolutionary concept to bring better wedge play to the masses. The “wedges” on the racks today are strikingly similar to those in my collection dating back to a hickory-shafted Hillerich and Bradsby LoSkore model from the late 1930s, a Spalding Dynamiter from the 50s, a Wilson DynaPower from the 70s,  and so on.

Shafts: Hands down, to me the most impactful innovation is the creation of the carbon fiber, or graphite, shaft. After fruitless ventures into aluminum and fiberglass, this direction has improved the performance of golf clubs across the board. You haven’t seen a steel-shafted driver in two decades or more, and irons are rapidly being converted. Personally, I don’t see me ever playing a steel shaft again in any club – even my putter! But beyond that, I’d have to say the concepts of frequency-matching and “spine-ing” shafts made it possible to achieve near perfection in building golf clubs for any golfer.

Wild card: This has to go to the invention of the hybrid. After decades of trying to find a way to make clubs of 18-24 degrees easier to master, Sonartec and Adams finally figured this out. And golfers of all skill levels are benefitting, as this is just a better way to get optimum performance out of clubs of that loft and length.

So, there’s my review from a lifetime of golf club engineering. What can you all add to this? What do you think I missed? I hope to see lots of conversation on this one…

 

*featured image via Ping

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, or SCOR, but you would certainly know his most recent accomplishment: the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2015. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have possibly stimulated other companies to also try to raise the CG and improve wedge performance.

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Lance Manion

    Jul 22, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    Wedges are stagnant at best…much needed innovation. Hope to see something sooner than later.

  2. ChipNRun

    Jul 1, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Oops, hybrid description flew OB! The early 2000s did NOT herald the invention of the hybrid. Rather, it marked the return of the Bulldog, a trouble club from the late 1800s through hickory age. The Bulldog had a very small head – exemplified by a clubface the width of two golf balls … a shorter shaft and about 25* loft… and was used to chop the ball out of moderate rough.

    For picture of replica, see: https://louisvillegolf.com/products/25-degree-bulldog

  3. michael kirby

    Jun 29, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    Well done.
    Informative. Concise. Quality information.

  4. Peter

    Jun 27, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    Under wedges a good try was TM with the replaceable face. Didn’t stick around but it was still a good idea. I wonder if vokey or Cleveland did this if it would have been more popular.

  5. Mike CR

    Jun 27, 2019 at 9:41 am

    The ball has seen a big change. If you ever played balata you would agree. The new balls are longer and straighter and don’t smile at you after hitting it in the belly with your sand wedge.

  6. Daniel Poehler

    Jun 27, 2019 at 7:59 am

    Good article, Terry. One innovation that I believe we can add is the addition of grooves to the face of putters to start the ball on a forward roll as soon as it’s struck as oppose to a skid then roll. I believe the “Yes” putters started the trend and now vertually every manufacturer has their version of this.

  7. Big Wally

    Jun 27, 2019 at 4:49 am

    I would say hollow head drivers and perimeter weighting in irons and putters for sure but in terms of evolution it has to be the golf ball. From gotta percha to the Haskell to balata to today’s urethane the ball goes further, straighter and lasts longer because it doesn’t cut.

    • Scott

      Jun 27, 2019 at 5:15 pm

      yes, the ball. Maybe the biggest change of all, not even on the list.

      • Terry Koehler

        Jun 28, 2019 at 10:01 am

        I can certainly agree, Scott. But I was focused on clubs with my list. There is certainly no question that the evolutionary/revolutionary changes to the golf ball have impacted the game a great deal, maybe more than all the things I listed combined!!!

        Good call.

  8. Tom54

    Jun 26, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    I concur with the larger headed drivers as being very influential. I’m not sure of its size compared to today’s 460 cc limit, but the first time I remember hitting my Biggest Big Bertha , I swear I thought I was cheating. How could you miss these things I thought? The ball looked like a pea sitting there on the tee next to that head.

  9. The Boss

    Jun 26, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    The biggest innovation on the horizon is owned by Green Golf; get ready to scrap all of your putters.

  10. DrRob1963

    Jun 26, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    I recall seeing an interview with Gene Sarazen, where he was asked if his addition of bounce to a wedge (to create the modern sand wedge) was the greatest invention in golf.
    “No!”, he replied. “it was the lawn-mower!”

  11. Robin

    Jun 26, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Hat to cover bald spot .

  12. dtrain

    Jun 26, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    TM Pittsburg persimmon
    Big Bertha/Great big bertha
    Ping Eye 2
    Ping Anser
    TM Rescue clubs

    PXG…I jest, I jest.

  13. Nils Nelson

    Jun 26, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    Wild Card: The Izzo Dual Strap golf bag.

  14. James

    Jun 26, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Please elaborate on that last comment regarding irons?

    • Terry Koehler

      Jun 26, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      Thank you James, That is probably a good dive for a future article. Stay tuned!!!

  15. Ty Web

    Jun 26, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Advanced Bermuda grass strains for anyone in the south.

  16. Corey Knapp

    Jun 26, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    The sand wedge!

  17. bobbyg

    Jun 25, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    The best golf club innovations? The slot. Thank you Wilson, Adams, and Nike, or anyone else I have failed to mention. Put one with the secret sauce in a club face and the ball goes further. Plus it keeps errant shots from going too far off line while also expanding the sweet spot for hacks like me.

    • William Davis

      Jun 26, 2019 at 6:19 am

      Wilson Reflex circa 1978? made an odd noise and I snapped face of 7 iron which was supposed to be impossible. Still, happy days.
      For all the club improvements I understand handicaps have not followed suit.

  18. Doug

    Jun 25, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    Terry, sole grinds evolved with turf conditions. I’m not sure what the club would be that was the revolution, but my limited knowledge points me toward Ping irons with wider soles for more effective bounce and a lot of radius along the leading edge. When fairways got more plush, those irons delivered improved turf interaction for a lot of players. Your own wedge designs reflected improvements that have been much copied in modern iron soles. A lot of attention is now paid the bottom of iron heads and you had a big part in that.

  19. scooter

    Jun 25, 2019 at 12:19 pm

    Not just the metal wood, but the 460cc driver complete with all the innovations that led to increased trampoline effects, improved forgiveness, and the max COR limit. Also, the large number of options in high-MOI mallet putters, not just Ping Anser style.

  20. Greg

    Jun 25, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    Can you expand upon your thoughts regarding this:
    But I do believe the steadfast adherence to the concept of a “matched” set has had a negative effect on all golfers’ proficiency with the higher-lofted irons

    • Johnny Penso

      Jun 25, 2019 at 8:47 pm

      That statement would make more sense is he had said, “proficiency with the lower lofted irons”, meaning, many players would probably benefit from a 4-6 hybrid in place of a 4-6 iron.

      • Jake

        Jun 26, 2019 at 3:06 pm

        Thought the same thing. If he did mean proficiency with wedges, etc. would be good to have a little explanation. ???????

  21. Christopher

    Jun 25, 2019 at 11:33 am

    I would argue that the modern (sand) wedge itself was the innovation, the bounce and sole was a huge benefit to golfers.

  22. Rich

    Jun 25, 2019 at 10:56 am

    Agreed. Additional: rangefinders, professional-level solid ball, soft spikes, cast irons (implied in perimeter weighting), high MOI everywhere.

  23. Robert

    Jun 25, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Golf carry bag with a stand
    Range finder

  24. Born

    Jun 25, 2019 at 10:14 am

    I’d say the Innovation of moving from wooden to steel shafts changed the game more significantly across the board when compared to graphite innovations

    • TR1PTIK

      Jun 25, 2019 at 2:48 pm

      I’d beg to differ. The ability to create more diverse profiles via graphite makes it the more significant innovation. The only major drawback of graphite shafts is a lack of weight for higher swing speed/stronger players who need it and even that is starting to be addressed.

  25. The dude

    Jun 25, 2019 at 9:41 am

    Shoukd be top golf equipment innovations….and then you could include the golf ball….the BIGGEST revolution in golf…

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